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Posted at: Aug 10, 2017, 12:33 AM; last updated: Aug 10, 2017, 12:33 AM (IST)

Eat to fight

A few simple dietary changes can build up strong immunity against swine flu, says clinical nutritionist and dietician Ruchi Goyal
Everyday the newspaper headlines are screaming about the spread of swine flu and the toll it is taking on public health and well-being. So, what is swine flu and how can we protect ourselves from it?

Swine flu is a viral infection that affects those with a weakened or vulnerable immune system. Revving up the body’s immunity would help keep us safe. The good news is that this can be achieved through simple dietary changes.

Let me start with a discussion about our immune system. It is the body’s defense against the millions of toxins, viruses, bacteria and other microbes that invade our body every day. In order to be able to fight these germs, our immune system should be healthy. If this defense mechanism breaks down, we would fall sick more often and recover from our illnesses much more slowly.

Low immunity is caused by high levels of free radicals and low levels of antioxidants in the body. Antioxidants help neutralize these free radicals. The most common antioxidants are vitamin C, E, A, betacarotene and the colourful bioflavonoids. All antioxidants and the related minerals like copper, zinc, manganese and selenium cannot be produced by our body and we need to get them from our food or supplements.

And the best way to do this is by ensuring good nutrition for our body. Good nutrition is achieved by making the right foods choices based on our local geography.

Typically, swine flu raises its head in India during the summer and the monsoon whereas it affects the western world during the winter. Therefore, keep in mind that the choice of foods to tackle swine flu would also be different for these two parts of the world.

n Stress on proteins: Anyone wishing to build a strong immunity must take a diet rich in proteins. The molecules that fight diseases are made of protein and the body needs more of them. Milk, beans, nuts, seeds and soy based products are, therefore, highly recommended.

n Focus on bright orange and green coloured foods: These include mangoes, carrots pumpkin and others. These foods have high levels of Vitamin A and therefore beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant that can effectively cleanse our body of foreign agents and free radicals.

n Think good fats: The essential fatty acids like Omega 3 and 6 are not produced by the body. These are abundantly found in fish oil, pumpkin seed oil and cold compressed flax seed oil.

n Load up on Vitamin C rich foods: They have anti-viral properties and help mobilize macrophage cells which are the first line of defense against microbes. It also helps in regeneration of Vitamin E thereby limiting the collateral damage during infections.

n Increase the intake of zinc: Zinc helps form antibodies (that fight infections) by increasing the levels of thymic hormone. This hormone is a potent stimulus of the immune system. Zinc also inhibits the replication of virus in the body.

n Include Vitamin D in the diet: Vitamin D helps produce antibacterial peptides that help protect against the flu. It works by increasing our body's production of 200-300 different anti-microbial peptides that are more effective than any synthetic antibiotic or antiviral.

n Medicinal herbs and honey: Different parts of these herbs like garlic, turmeric, basil, ginger, giloy, etc. are recommended because of their medicinal and anti-microbial properties. Mixing honey increases the absorption and the potency of these herbs thereby compounding their effectiveness.

Although nutrition is the key to a good immune system, exercise is equally important. Moderate, regular exercise, keeps the blood pumping and in turn the organ systems work better.

Last but not the least, rest. Sleep helps our body recover and rejuvenates the immune system.

Along with all the above, the need for good personal hygiene cannot be over-emphasized. Prevention is better than cure. So, eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep well and be cautious about hygiene. This will make sure you keep swine flu at bay.

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